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'Nole time gospel

Preaching his own methods, Fisher has rekindled the spirit, and success, of the Bowden dynasty years at Florida State

January 05, 2014|CHRIS DUFRESNE
  • Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher took over the Seminole football program in 2010 and in just four short seasons he brought the school to its first BCS Championship game since 2000.
Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher took over the Seminole football program… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )

In December 2006, Bobby Bowden blew off an interview with a Los Angeles reporter who was in Tallahassee, Fla., to preview Florida State's upcoming Emerald Bowl game with UCLA.

The reporter was me.

Bowden had no time to explain as he rushed out of Doak Campbell Stadium on his way to a waiting plane.

He said he'd give me all the time I wanted if I could stay an extra day (and he graciously did), but this was a pressing issue concerning the future of the program.

Neither of us could have imagined that trip would lead to Florida State playing Auburn on Monday night in the last Bowl Championship Series title game.

It was, pardon the pun, a Seminole moment.

Bowden left that day in hot pursuit of Jimbo Fisher, then the offensive coordinator at Louisiana State.

Fisher joined the staff the next month and was named Bowden's successor in waiting.

The transition was messier than it should have been, as Florida State forced Bowden out a year before he wanted to go, but it all worked out in the Rose Bowl end zone.

Fisher took over for Bowden in 2010 and led Florida State on a steady climb back to the top.

Seasons of 10-4, 9-4 and 12-2 preceded this year's 13-0 romp to the Rose Bowl.

Florida State is back in the BCS title game for the first time since 2000, when a 13-2 loss to Oklahoma foreshadowed the decline of the Bowden dynasty.

It feels like old times again, when Bowden's teams ran roughshod through a watered-down Atlantic Coast Conference to win national titles in 1993 and 1999.

Fisher has answered the question so many of us asked: "What happens to FSU after Bowden is gone?"

Could the school's stunning football success be sustained, or was it all a one-man Bowden band?

Florida State was an ink blot in 1976, a former women's college that went 1-10 and 3-8 under Darrell Mudra in the two seasons before Bowden arrived.

Bowden, in 34 seasons, produced unprecedented results with only heartbreaking losses to Miami preventing Florida State from winning four, or five, national titles.

His most impressive accomplishment was leading Florida State to 14 straight top-five finishes in the final Associated Press poll.

Fisher has answered the question: Florida State IS a program, not a man.

Fisher is not Bowden, though, but an amalgam of all his experiences in 22 years as an assistant coach. He was lucky enough to work five years under Nick Saban at LSU and three years under Bowden.

He was mindful, though, to carve out his own niche.

"I don't try to be Coach Bowden or Coach Saban," he said Saturday at BCS media day in Newport Beach. "I just try to be Jimbo."

Being Jimbo is a full-time job. He is a hands-on coach and world-class recruiter who is convinced people control their own destinies.

Fisher's visible exhaustion this week is part of the competitive chase.

"To me this is an elimination process," he said. "The mental toughness, the grind that goes on in a season for coaches and players. That's why there's only one champion."

The 48-year-old Fisher said it was his goal, when he took over, to build a foundation that would lead to longevity.

He was able to deftly siphon Bowden's success without trampling on his legacy.

Fisher has assembled a team that could rival some of Bowden's best.

Fisher galvanized a team and navigated his players through sexual abuse allegations against star quarterback Jameis Winston.

Fisher held the center together, as Bowden often had to do, through a minefield of off-field distractions.

Florida State is one victory from a perfect season, something Bowden achieved only in his wire-to-wire run in 1999.

Even that team, though, had to survive a 17-14 scare at Clemson, coached by Bobby's son Tommy.

Florida State's closest scrape this year was a 14-point win at Boston College

Fisher's success has softened the acrimony over Bowden's clumsy exit. The question now is whether the school can keep Fisher anywhere close to 34 years.

Bowden seemed anchored in Tallahassee, the only program scare coming when he contemplated a move to Alabama, the school he worshiped as a boy growing up in Birmingham.

The buzz this week suggested Florida State was only renting Fisher through Monday night's game, at which time Texas would swoop in with a 10-gallon hat filled with money.

It had to be unsettling to Seminole Nation when Winston jokingly said he would follow Fisher to Austin.

"I messed with Coach Fisher about that," Winston said.

Tensions appeared to ease as reports indicated Louisville Coach Charlie Strong is set to become Texas' next coach.

Seminoles fans probably won't rest easy, though, until Strong is wearing a cowboy hat while standing next to Bevo.

Fisher wouldn't address the Texas rumors and recently signed an extension to stay in Tallahassee.

That doesn't preclude any coach, he says, from keeping his options open.

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